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This briefing predominantly relates to England but also includes information on the position in other countries, including Wales.

Current position

There is currently no general legal requirement on those working with children in England to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect. The statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, says “anyone who has concerns about a child’s welfare should make a referral to local authority children’s social care and should do so immediately if there is a concern that the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to do so.” While statutory guidance does not impose a legislative requirement to report abuse, it creates an expectation that those working with children will comply with the guidance unless there are exceptional circumstances.

In addition, a number of professional regulators and bodies (predominantly those in the health and social care sectors) require their members to report any concerns about a child’s safety or well-being. A professional’s failure to adhere to such standards or codes of conduct may result in misconduct or fitness to practise proceedings against them.

Mandatory reporting duty

There have been calls for a mandatory duty to report known or suspected child abuse and neglect to be introduced for specific groups, such as social workers and teachers. Proponents argue that a mandatory reporting duty would offer greater protection to children.

In July 2016, the Government launched a consultation which sought views on two possible reforms in relation to reporting child abuse and neglect:

  • The introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect.
  • The introduction of a duty to take appropriate action in relation to child abuse or neglect.

In its response to the consultation, published in March 2018, the Government said it had decided against introducing either a mandatory reporting duty or a duty to take appropriate action. While recognising the argument that mandatory reporting could reduce the risk that serious cases pass unnoticed, the Government response raised a number of risks associated with such a duty or a duty to act.

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, published in October 2022, said children had suffered as a result of “a marked absence of a cohesive set of laws and procedures in England and in Wales that require individuals working with children to report child sexual abuse”.

The report recommended the UK Government and the Welsh Government introduce legislation placing certain individuals – ‘mandated reporters’ – under a statutory duty to report child sexual abuse in prescribed circumstances (eg, where they observe recognised indicators of sexual abuse). 

The report recommended it should be a criminal offence for mandated reporters to not report child sexual abuse where they are in receipt of a disclosure of child sexual abuse from a child or perpetrator, or witness a child being sexually abused.

The Government has said it will provide “a comprehensive response” to the report’s recommendations within six months of its publication.

Mandatory reporting in other countries

Since April 2016 certain public bodies in Wales have been under a duty to inform the local authority if they have “reasonable cause to suspect that a child” who has needs for care and support is at risk of abuse, neglect or other kinds of harm.

Mandatory reporting laws exist in several countries internationally, including the majority of countries in Europe and some parts of the US, Canada and Australia.

Although there is variation, the core components of mandatory reporting laws include:

  • Who is covered by the duty.
  • What must be reported.
  • Who the report must be made to.
  • Sanctions for failing to report.

Documents to download

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